Disclaimer: I do not own Firefly any of its characters or the wonderful universe it is set in. Joss Whedon has that privilege. Nor do I own Hellsing any of its characters or what remains of its universe inside of this story (I think I've covered this before but ah well). I do own a few people, an Atlas of the Verse and many, many, MANY hours of research that was put into this story. (Kinda pathetic I know)
Dedication: I want to thank everyone who has reviewed, from the first reviewers to the newest, including JustKalEl who left a completely amazing review but it was unsigned so I couldn't respond personally. I also want to thank everyone who sent a private message asking me if I was still working on this and everyone who is still reading. I am extremely honored and always grateful. I keep every single comment and PM in an inbox in my email because every one of them means a lot.
Author's Note: Ah, that being said, I apologize profusely for the YEAR long delay between chapters. I have been taking obscenely and insanely high number of hours to attempt to get my bachelors that much more quickly and much of my writing prowess gets focused on the rather idiotic papers I have to put out to get those A's. I have spent most of the past week going over notes and rereading chapters and restudying various bits of research I've done. I have had a real problem trying to imagine how to do these chapters that take place during the episodes of Firefly and still haven't quite figured it out. However, I think i'm just going to give it my best effort and hope you will forgive me if they are slightly (or way more than slightly) lame. I owe it to every single one of you to get this done, done soon and done to the best of my abilities.
Anywho, I hope you enjoy.
But I won't give you up
I won't let you down
And I won't leave you falling
If the moment ever comes
So many voices. So much chaos. The neat and orderly rows of thoughts filled with numbers and science. Steps and structure and notes. Always notes. and the others. Their voices always quieter – she had always been the star of them all burning cold and bright until supernova was all but inevitable from too much theft of other nearby stars – quiet voices with control learned from pain.
All gone now. but not gone. She was gone and had found new voices. Voices that said much and nothing. It was so new and different. It hurt sometimes. Too much chaos and disorder and no map or compass to guide her until she found her own. Or made it. Something about the voices made her sure that help was important until somehow she could help herself. Lost in the chaos and in pain.
But not alone.
And not afraid.
She had forgotten what happiness was like.
Simone wondered, for perhaps the thousandth time if not the millionth, how he had found himself in his present situation. Sure, tending to a pretty girl with a bullet hole in her lower abdomen wasn't particularly uncommon for a trauma surgeon, though, thankfully it was at least somewhat unusual. but tending to a girl who was shot because e of him while he was more or less using her as a hostage to ensure the safety of his sister seemed far more unusual than he could ever have imagined in the fairly straight forward course of his life.
Still, instinct kicked in, followed by the training. If he could thank his parents for anything anymore it was for being able to keep calm in any circumstance, no matter how absurd. His practiced hands and well-structured mentality got him through the surgery and kept his mind in some sort of rightful order as he operated on the sweet girl who had been bashful and sincere to him in ways he had almost forgotten people could be. The training absorbed his mind so thoroughly that it kept carrying in the way it normally would with thoughts of post-op care after he made his mental prognosis.
Which is why, perhaps, for all his gifted intellect that he didn't realize what the Captain meant until he was chasing him, stumbling, through the door.
One of the things that his Ma had told him and something that Aunt Vicki and even Lady Serentiy had confirmed was to never let them see how angry you were. Anger and emotion just give your enemy the advantage. He couldn't rightly say who had suggested that he keep a strong sense of humor as his first defense but that had saved him as much as anything when tragedy struck and war hit hard.
Some days he wondered if he felt much at all.
Today was not one of those days.
Not only did he have a Fed pointing the Alliance at him, but now Kaylee had a bullet in her and some damn fancified boy from the Core with a price on his head was trying to us e her to save his hide. That anger only doubled, though, when he kicked the top of that damn crate and found a young naked girl doped up and packed up like meat for sale.
He'd heard about it for years, o course. The rich bastards on the Border or out on the Outer Rim would get enough money that they thought they were better than the land they shat on and would pay a high price for a bargain bride from the Core. Never from the too prominent families, hell typically they were serving class girls that no one cared about. But they still had soft skin and a pretty enough accent to make the money well spent. And if she fought when she woke up, that was just more fun.
He'd always kind of wondered at the phrase "seeing red", but he understood it quite well then. It had only taken seconds for him to piece together how easy it would be for a doctor to make some extra credits on the side by putting some of his patients under only for them to wake up on the other side of the Verse. A doctor who had just put his filthy hands on Kaylee. The red began to clear away some as the cloudy gases were clearing away from the girl and as he wondered if the poor girl even had a family to realize she was gone. He struggled, some would even say valiantly, for those scraps of humor that he always prided himself on.
All he managed was, "huh".
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the boy struggle and yet all he could do was stare. She must have been something to look at once. Something about her, even asleep and all naked, told him that she had suffered a good bit before she was even put in the box.
"I need to check her vitals," the bastard doctor struggled out, attempting pathetically against Jayne's stronghold.
Finally, he found that sick humor. He looked up at the doctor. "Is that what they call it?"
The boy kept on struggling, his eyes pinned to the box and the girl in it. "She's not supposed to wake up for another week! The shock could –"
"The shock of what?" Mal broke in, that red coming back again. "Waking up? Finding out she's been sold to some borderworld baron? Oh, I'm sorry," he broke off, fighting for that damn humor again before he killed the boy on principle, "was this one for you? Is it true love? 'Cause you seem – "
He broke off, startled, and stumbled back with a strangled yelp as the girl woke up with a scream. He watched, unable to look away or even move really, as she made her way awkwardly out of the container and spilled onto the floor, making scared cries all the while.
The anger faded into the background as he stared at the poor girl who had just been taken from everything she knew. He could feel nothing but pity and roiling sadness in his stomach at the thought of what might have happened to her if they hadn't found her first. He was so focused on the sight of her sitting there in a heap of unintelligible cries and fear that he hardly noticed the doctor getting the better of Jayne, who – fair enough – had become a bit distracted.
Something about the doctor's voice struck a chord. It wasn't his knowing her name, he should know that much at least, but something else. Fear and worry of a kind not associated with pacifying some girl you just inducted into the time honored trade of human trafficking.
"River." The boy reached out and touched her and the girl screamed and jerked away, turning her head to avoid looking at him. "River. It's okay. It's okay. I'm here."
His voice was absolutely calming at that point as he gently held the girl and encouraged her to look at him. Before Mal could decide if he should interfere, the girl – River- looked up at the boy, tears in her eyes, and then jerked around to glance at all the people around her, strangers just staring, dazed.
His voice draws her attention to him again and Mal, standing as close as he was, could tell the moment that recognition burst into life in her eyes.
She burst into tears and the small sort of calm that she had found in recognizing the doctor shattered. Mal could only stare, anger and pity only slightly suppressed by the confusion that had settled in at the realization that the rich boy trying to tell the girl that she was safe was something very different from human trafficking. Something a whole hell of a lot worse.
"What is this?"
The doctor was defiant as he looked at Mal, eyes nearly as watery as the girl's, who he was holding close to him as if he could protect her from everything in the Verse.
"This is my sister."
So many voices and all so angry. Scared too. Fear and pity and confusion and so much anger. But safe.
Seras woke with a start, the vivid images of her dream slowly fading from behind her eyes. She shook her head, as if to dislodge the last traces, and wondered if she had to worry about Mal putting an ironic end to her successful rescue plans. It was beyond implausible that such a wide variety of those she had devoted so much personal time and interest to had wound up on one fairly small ship. Her eyes dropped down to where the gloves that covered her hands for the better part of a millennium had once been. Integra would have accused her of doing it on purpose and Serenity would have looked at her with laughing eyes. Alu-
She sat up abruptly, pulling her feet down from where they were hanging over the arm of the blush chair. Looking up, her eyes met a decidedly amused ice blue gaze.
"Enjoy your nap?" Nikolai drawled with a wide smile. When she didn't respond, the smile grew into a grin. "I can't imagine what you must be up to that would cause you to be exhausted enough to pass out somewhere outside of your own domain. I mean, you even broke into my office! How daring."
"Shut up," she growled, cheeks flushing red. "I've been busy and you weren't here, but you'd be lying if you said you actually minded."
"You should of course feel free," he conceded, "and I am always happy to help." His gaze grew daring as he leaned back in his well-appointed chair and lit a cigarette. "especially when you are going to project such interesting dreams. Tell me, Seras, are all your dreams visions of fact rather than fantasy?"
She gave him a long, somewhat less than friendly look, taking a moment to decide on whether or not to give him the truth he arguably didn't deserve, asking in such a way. Finally, she shrugged and sank back into the chair, tossing one leg over the other and bouncing it agitatedly.
"Yes. There are only farseeing dreams now." She passed a hand over her face and sighed tiredly. "An ever flowing stream of…"
When she trailed off, he sat forward, flicking the ash into the exquisite crystal ashtray. "I would grant you dreamless sleep if I could, my dear. An eternity like that is nothing anyone should bear."
She smiled at him affectionately before her eyes flicked to the celling, gazing sightlessly at the random design of the white panels.
"It's his fault. He never saw the future and rarely viewed the present, but the pasted haunted him endlessly." His fault too, she added, so carefully silent to herself, that they were worse now since he had been the only one able to help keep them at bay.
"Him, I refuse to pity," Nikolai remarked snarkily. "If I thought it would benefit me, I would be rid of him in a more final way, but it would not do me any good at all would it?"
Seras looked down at met his eyes again, playful and yet oh so serious, and a sad smile played on her lips. "Afraid not. Though, if its any consolation, I wish it would."
The ancient vampire chuckled, blowing out a long stream of smoke as he took his turn staring at the ceiling.
"All these years and I can never get the girl."
Sitting upright slowly, she looked at him with slightly narrowed eyes, analyzing. "Just how old are you, Nikolai?"
He dropped his eyes to meet hers and smirked. "That would be telling."
"Could you really do it?" she asked, brow furrowed and eyes intent. "Are you really old enough and powerful enough to kill him?"
His eyes sparkled with practiced mischief as he picked up a file on his desk and held it out to her.
"I have a new project for you, if you are taking a break from infiltrating secret government sanctioned facilities."
She took the folder from him, curiosity and restless getting the better of her. Gtlancing inside, she almost found her attention captured, but managed to keep her focus long enough to look back at him.
"You didn't answer my question."
"No," he laughed. "I didn't." His smirk grew more dangerous and the light in his eyes more promising. "Maybe if you give me a reason, I'll give you an answer."
Seras stood slowly, file in hand, and went to the door, plucking her coat from the rack. She gave him another glance just before stepping through and found herself slightly started as, for the first time, she felt fear of the eccentric ageless vampire. He winked at her, grinning happily, and she found herself laughing as she stepped into the hallway and shut the door behind her.
All these years later, and she still only attracted the crazies.
The laughter died away as the memory of her dream returned to her between meetings with the other, more legitimate, members of Parliament. A few hours and many tiring conversations where her mind was decidedly elsewhere later, Seras was reminded that there was always at least one opinion she didn't have to gaze backwards into time to guess at – though whether or not that was fortunate or not was a different idea all together.
"Did you perform some sort of crazy vampire magic to get all of your pets on one ship? Magical Mistress?"
"Yes, oh Gloriously Gifted One," the computer chimed in less than reverantly as she took a look at the ever present feed on the screen inside the viewing room. Judging by what she saw from her unwitting spy in Shepard's clothing, her hard work helping the girl escape had not gone to waste and no one had killed anyone else.
Mal didn't rightly know what it was that brought him to the infirmary after the Reavers had decided to skate on by, the only bit of luck he'd had in the past week, weeks…hell. He knew that Kaylee was still under, thankfully so, and he'd never had any particular care for the hospital type places. So, he could think of no reason in the Verse that brought him to the cold and sterile room nor why he couldn't bring himself to leave.
Why he found himself staring at the girl.
He'd threatened to shove both of them outside of the airlock if the doctor didn't do right by Kaylee and save her life. He'd said that they'd be getting off at Whitefall, which was fair close to a death sentence for the soft sort that they were, specially with the girl looking to be a bit off even if it was only trauma. Still, as he looked down at her where she slept so deeply he could scarce be sure she breathed, the idea of either was revolting.
She'd done nothing wrong.
He knew that, as he stared down at her, looking young and innocent and like all sorts of hell. Hell, she was further proof of what he already knew, that bitter reminder of why he'd fought the war in the first place. She'd been a bright and charming sort of girl, according to her brother, and now was apparently just about crazy and maybe just on this side of broken. She'd done nothing wrong, nothing but wanting to learn, and they had betrayed her trust and ruined her.
Hell, he couldn't even say that the boy had done wrong, aside of dumping his problems on other people and it was just like the proper rich folk to lack common sense. He'd stepped up to help his kin and sacrificed his life and money and made himself a fugitive all to help a sister that he had every right to be jealous of and hate. Judging by the fact that they were on his ship giving him problems, he warranted that he'd done more than their parents had. He reckoned that they'd abandoned them both and kept to their fancy social lives and piles of money.
So, there he was, still just staring at her. Mal knew that if he kicked them off his boat, alive or dead, the image of her in that box and the image of her lying there on a glorified countertop, they would never leave him. If he kicked them off his boat, their fate would haunt him and he would always wonder at their fate and hate himself for abandoning them to whichever Fed or bounty hunter that would drag the girl back to her own private torture and the boy to jail, likely never seen again. No matter what logic he might argue himself with, solid and fine logic at that, he knew it all the same.
He stood staring at her, mind in chaos, until he heard Kaylee shift and call out to him, distracting him finally from his thoughts.
The voices were further away now, quieter. Whispers of ghost conversations that had finished and were still in the middle of explanations and telling secrets echoed passively in the quiet that vacant shouts and anger had left behind. Things were at peace and arrangements made, or would be made and though there was something coming soon or had already come or maybe it was all backwards, for the moment she was at peace, swimming in softer flooding whispers.
Sunlight and warmth flooded onto her and she looked over at the girl of earthly knowledge and skyward disposition.
"Hey there, sweetie. Feeling better yet?"
"Less noise and quieter. Rest doesn't help but understanding. Maybe sleep," she allowed, realizing that at least the warrior priest had met sleep, or had he? He was sleeping and wakeful and that was then and this was now, but which came first? Others were gone and there were only whispers and distant tickles of touching thoughts dimmed by the life and soul of the ship, sleeping itself but breathing all the same.
River shook her head, for a moment becoming River Tam and not just River Mnemosyne, full of memories, or River Styx, full of death. "You are Kaylee."
The brunette girl full of sunshine and an unfortunate bullet hole nodded with a happy, if understandably tired, smile.
"And you're River, Simon's sister."
River nodded. "For now." She looked at her sideways and upright as the both lay down in varying levels of comfort in the room of needles and sickness. "Are you doing better? Should have asked first. More important."
"Oh don't say that! And I'm just shiny. Your brother fixed me just fine."
River Tam smiled proudly. "He is best. Doesn't know, won't admit. Doesn't care. His soul says to help and save and so he saves people…." Her voice faded and she couldn't fight the wash of pain and joy and guilt and gratitude that followed the reminder of what she had woken up knowing. He had sacrificed everything for her. A solid fact that she knew like stone. Just as well, a stone that weighed heavier, staying in place in the tides of winding whispers and smoky thoughts, she knew, too, that she was not worth the sacrifice.
Suddenly, the waters shifted and the screams crashed upon the shores and the traces of River Tam were lost in echoes all but unheard. Something moved, a shift in the stream coming closer and closer. What shape it took she couldn't think. "Simon," left her lips immediately as she sat up, carried by the surging of whispers that rippled in the wake. But what shape? The warrior priest was down and the crowd of chaos had receded, all but gone and all far away. Standing, she followed the currents, the whispers all but drowning out the flesh and blood laying right beside her inquiring after her. Something was there, a shape she wasn't certain of, felt but not seen. She stepped over the precipice and into the outside. Then, as they always do, the serpent leaped out of its hole and caught her in its coils.
She'd doubted him and that hurt him almost as much as the knowledge that they were hurting her. Simon knew, in the way a good brother should, that she hadn't doubted him in the same way he knew they both doubted their parents through the years. After waking up and stabilizing enough to attempt coherent conversation, River hadn't even bothered to ask about them. She'd simply known, the way she always did. But she'd doubted him because she had been that afraid, had hurt that much. It had just taken him too long, too long for her to continue to hope without eventually caving in to doubt and hopelessness. They'd had her for three years and, as he looked at the pain and love and gratitude in her eyes, he felt ashamed that it had taken so long.
He wished, as he watched her fall under the influence of the medication, that he'd been cleverer, that he'd been able to think like she would have and been able to come up with some sort of plan that would have ensured their safety. Instead, the two of them were on a relic of a ship, mixed in with questionable people and unable to really guess at what course to take, at what might be safe.
River would like them, Simon knew, when she woke up. She had always loved meeting new people and coming across interesting personalities. He imagined that she and Kaylee might become friends and that he would, at some point, find her playing with the dinosaurs that the pilot kept with him. Inara and Shepard Book would probably help with their share of worldly wisdom and the first mate, Zoe, seemed to be the level headed and accepting sort. They would be good influences on her, he was sure of it, he needed to be. Well, Jayne….
Standing up, he covered her up again and made his way out of the small room as silently as he could. She had grown so much since he had seen her and yet in some ways he was exactly the same. A bitter wave washed over him as he realized that their parents would probably never see her and see what she'd become.
Simon flinched away from his own thoughts as he moved away from the passenger dorms and towards the front of the ship where the cockpit was. He needed to speak to the Captain. No matter how much River might like the people on board with them, he knew that they were unwelcome passengers. Still, despite his dislike of the man in general terms, Malcolm Reynolds had earned the doctor's respect. He'd protected River when Simon could only stand there, flustered and conflicted, and he'd handled each situation that had been thrown at him in the past few days with a sense of humor and some measure of cool intellect that gave proof that he'd earned the loyalty of his people.
What would River make of the Captain, Simon wondered briefly as he made his rough way past Jayne the Barbarian. It was likely that neither of them would know. All the same, the doctor found himself wondering just how the man would deal with her and if she would be able to push him off balance at last. And how she would deal with him, a man who had stepped up to protect her, even if only for a minute, when her parents had shown only apathy and abandoned her completely.
"I found what was different in the compressors."
Seras glanced up, a little startled, s her daughter entered the room, her steps bouncing with the energy that always come over her when she was on the brink of discovery. Her husband followed behind her, more cautious in his excitement as he typically was.
"What did you find, Shiara?" Seras queried, putting her work down.
"It's an anomalous chemical compound which appears to change and adapt almost biologically upon introduction to certain levels of heat and other chemicals, a few not all, in the terraforming processor kits. Specifically, the air compressors. It was previously overlooked because the composition was larger than was expected and when broken into the component molecules, there is nothing present to give rise to suspicion excepting in their increased frequency."
"…okay," the older woman responded slowly. She chose her next words carefully, not wishing to start the ultimate scientist on a path that would lead to an overly scientific explanation using phrases and terminology that Seras was simply too tired to figure out at the moment."What …does it …do?"
The question brought the redhead up short, a frown settling on her lovely features, and a grin making a quick appearance on her husband's.
"I don't know."
The grin on Michael's face grew wider as his wife's shoulders sunk at the admission. She turned to glare at him and he tactfully cleared his throat in an attempt to gain some seriousness.
"What, ah, she means is that we aren't sure wand she wanted to see if you knew."
"Me?" Seras asked, doubtfully. "I'll look but I doubt my cursory chemistry and particle knowledge will have anything that you don't already know."
"Honestly, I agree, but better safe than sorry," Shiara commented wisely as she handed both the original compound structure and the reacted to her mother-in-law.
"We already asked Father," Michael chimed in unapologetically.
"Glad to know I rank lower than he does," Seras remarked dryly as she looked over the data carefully. After a minute, she shook her head and handed it back to Shiara's waiting hand.
"Nothing to do with rank, Mother," Michael responded placatingly. "You just care about the end result and results overall, etc, whereas father is simply willing to humor our curiosity."
"Somehow," his mother commented with a severe look, "I doubt that." Leaning back in her chair, she looked at both of them comprehensively. "What do we know then?"
Shiara perched lightly on the arm of the chair that faced Seras' desk. "We know what it isn't more than anything, really. we know it is not an environmental compound."
"Meaning that it isn't affecting the outcome of the terraforming?"
"Yes," the redhead nodded. "Nothing I know of that goes into the terraforming processes changes when introduced to this compound."
"which means it is not aimed at terraforming but something else," Michael concluded quietly.
A quiet feeling of uneasiness grew in Seras as she looked at her equally troubled children.
"Find out what it does to people. I have a feeling that this may be a lot more serious than we first thought."
"Already working on it."
"Well, work quickly. I have a hunch and I am extremely interested in being wrong."
"Yes, ma'am," Shiara agreed quickly before bowing and leaving the room, that same energy in her steps. Michael stayed behind a moment longer, unsure of the sudden worry in his mother's face and equally unsure that he wanted to know what was causing it. His gazed dropped to the folder open on her desk before he smiled a quiet goodbye and left the room, curious as to when his mother had started investigating Reavers.
Additional note: I'm sorry if there were more typos than usual. Not only do I not have a beta, I am fairly sure that I am missing parts of my brain pan. I am already working on the next chapter (which may or may not cover several episodes rather than just the one). I also hope to (FINALLY) get out the strange rewrite of a fairy tale that I've been working on for the past like...2-3 years. But these chapters have higher priority so we'll see. It is themed for the Winter Solstice so we'll know then!
As always, thank you!
Til Next time!